NCGA Net Score Database
Seven years ago I was assigned a heady task — build a mousetrap that will identify those golfers who perform really, really well in NCGA net and Team Match events — maybe too well.
It seemed that the same faces and same clubs were showing up in the winner’s circle year after year and that winning net scores were becoming more and more preposterous. Our member clubs were hot, they were letting us hear it and they were demanding action.
In response, the most ambitious program of its kind was launched in 2004, the NCGA Net Score Database.
The program has seen many changes since its inception, mostly the result of trial and error. At its core, however, the program remains remarkably simple, unbiased and wrapped in sound handicapping fundamentals. Here is how it works.
Every round recorded by every NCGA member in an NCGA event played with handicap is logged. And I mean every round by every NCGA member beginning at the regional qualifying stage. NCGA gross events and club events are excluded from review. The current database, consisting of scores from the three most recent seasons, includes 17,000+ players and 76,000+ scores.
Each individual round within the database is posed a question. Did the golfer play to or better than their handicap that day? If “yes,” how far below their handicap?
The first law of handicapping holds that a golfer will only play to their handicap once every five rounds or so. Many golfers refuse to believe this statistic, but proof is just a couple of keystrokes away. At any point in time, look up your current Handicap Index and inspect the 20 rounds that went into the calculation. Count the number of differentials among the 20 that are lower than the Index you were issued for the month. At all handicap levels you will typically only find four rounds that qualify.
Another indisputable truth of handicapping is that golfers, on average, actually score about three strokes above their handicap. Due to the rarity of scoring well below one’s handicap, stage two of our review consists of applying USGA-established odds to every round that scored a “yes” in step one. The lower the score, the higher the odds.
The third step in the process consists of looking at the entire body of NCGA net scores for a given individual. We count the number of “yes” versus “no” rounds and weigh this with the odds for the good scores. If our final tally exceeds certain thresholds, we take action in the form of assigning a “number” that the golfer will be required to play to in all NCGA handicap events that season (our number, or their current Handicap Index, whichever is lower). This number in no way, shape or form is to be confused with a Handicap Index nor does it impact the Handicap Index issued to the golfer each month. The club that the golfer is a member of is the one and only authority that can adjust a Handicap Index.
How many golfers are impacted by our action? Less than 1.5% of 17,000+ golfers in 2009.
There are some obvious drawbacks to our program.
One, the system is reactive. Our action can only take place after the low net scores have been recorded. A philosophy of “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” is the best we can hope to achieve.
Two, our analysis is only as good as the accuracy of the scores credited to the golfer. Accuracy is not in dispute in stroke-play events where an attested scorecard is involved, but it is a factor in Team Match.
Match play creates a number of unique scoring situations, most notably those involving concessions and unplayed holes when a match ends prior to the 18th hole.
You would be amazed at the number of people who seem to think that if you are conceded a 25-foot putt, you post the score for handicapping purposes as if you would have made the putt. How much sense would that make? No, you post the score you most likely would have made had the hole been completed.
Many also dispute the concept of posting par plus any handicap strokes they are entitled to for unplayed holes. No matter how well they are playing up to that point, many seem convinced that they would have scored worse than net pars had they played in. This is a difficult argument to make.
Then there are the frontal assault appeals.
“Of course I play better in tournaments, I practice a lot more for them.” Just once I would like someone to explain to me why the non-tournament round the day before and the day after didn’t likewise benefit from all this practice.
And last but not least, “of course I play better in tournaments, I concentrate more.” This one irritates me the most since it implies that the golfer just kind of goes through the motions for most rounds only to kick it into higher gear for important tournaments. They see nothing wrong with having their handicap based upon those rounds where they did not give it their best and then outperforming this handicap with ease and great regularity when the moment is right. It should go without saying that no golfer is entitled to such an advantage.
I have a simple philosophy when it comes to handicaps. Show me a golfer who can raise the level of their game at will in big tournaments, and I will show you a golfer with too high a handicap. Our Net Score Database program identifies and neutralizes such golfers.
If you would like to have your say, please post a comment below.